BISMARCK, N.D. – March 22, 2012 – As the world’s leader in wetlands and waterfowl conservation, Ducks Unlimited is drawing attention to this month’s milestone 9th Annual World Water Day. World Water Day is held annually on March 22 to focus attention on the importance of fresh water and advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. This year’s theme is Water and Food Security.
“Water is our greatest natural resource,” said DU CEO Dale Hall. “Unfortunately, it is often the one most taken for granted. Recognizing the importance of water to all of us is a critical first step in guaranteeing sufficient water quality and quantity around the world.”
Freshwater supplies are already a limited resource in some places, and as the world population grows from the current 7 billion to a projected 9 billion by 2050, water resources will be further strained. Conservation and restoration of wetland habitats will continue to be keys to ensuring a sufficient and usable water supply for future generations of people, as well as wildlife.
Of particular concern to waterfowl and to Ducks Unlimited are wetlands and other nesting habitat in the Prairie Pothole Region states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa, which saw a net loss of freshwater wetlands from 2004 to 2009. This area is known to produce 50 percent of the continent’s ducks on an average year and up to 70 percent when water is abundant. As critical wetlands disappear across the PPR, the future of duck production is in danger.
In addition to these tremendous waterfowl and wildlife values, wetlands provide recreational opportunities and crucial ecological functions such as storm surge protection, floodwater absorption, groundwater recharge, aquifer replenishment and water filtration. “Ducks Unlimited conserves these vital habitats for waterfowl, but the broader benefits of wetlands conservation to society and our environment as a whole should not be overlooked,” Hall said.
A recent study estimated that 1 acre of wetlands can store more than 1.5 million gallons of floodwater. The bottomland hardwood wetlands along the Mississippi River once stored at least 60 days of floodwater, but now have the capacity for only 12 days because most have been filled or drained. The impact of this storage loss along the Mississippi is evident as floods such as those in 1993 and 2011 have caused more than $10 billion in damages, and yearly damages are estimated at $3.5 billion. Iowa felt the severe impacts of flooding in summer 2008. Having lost 90 percent of existing wetlands in the state, very little buffer was available to reduce the magnitude of the flooding or protect nearby cities.
Many wetlands help recharge underground aquifers like the Ogallala Aquifer in the Great Plains region. These aquifers store 97 percent of the world’s unfrozen fresh water. Many Americans rely on groundwater for their drinking water, and recharge is important for ensuring a sustainable supply. The Ogallala Aquifer provides drinking water to 82 percent of the people who live within its boundaries. Groundwater resources are also in heavy demand for uses beyond potable water. Currently, 17 percent of the world’s cropland is irrigated, sometimes leading to over-pumping of groundwater. This makes groundwater recharge by wetlands especially valuable.
Plants and soils in wetlands play a significant role in purifying water, removing high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, preventing hypoxic conditions and, in some cases, removing toxic chemicals. Hypoxia is a condition in which dissolved oxygen levels are too low (less than 2-3 ppm) and is primarily a problem for estuaries and coastal waters. Hypoxia can be caused by a variety of factors including excess nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus, and water body stratification due to saline or temperature gradients.
Whatever the water-related issues faced by the wildlife and people who enjoy and depend on wetlands, DU and its partners will continue to focus on water resources and their importance across North America.
“Ducks Unlimited is committed to conserving wetland habitats for our society and for future generations of waterfowl and people,” Hall said. “We’re celebrating 75 years of conservation accomplishments this year, and we intend to continue delivering our mission of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever.”